Wes: Timor archives of key Darwin activist

10 August 2015

Rob Wesley-Smith has been the most continuously identifiable public face of East Timor political activism in Darwin since 1974. CHART’s John Waddingham and Cecily Gilbert examined his Timor papers in July and will assist him to prepare the collection for long-term preservation and access.

Konfrontasi: Wes being arrested outside the Indonesian Consulate, Darwin, 1999. [Source: Rob Wesley-Smith]

Konfrontasi: Wes being arrested outside the Indonesian Consulate, Darwin, 1999. [Source: Rob Wesley-Smith]

Known universally as ‘Wes’, Rob Wesley-Smith is a unique identity in Australia’s Asian-frontier city, Darwin. An agronomist by profession, Wes brought unbounded energy to his formal work and to his persistent public commentary on Darwin or Northern Territory issues. Driven by principles of social justice, he was directly involved in Aboriginal issues, including the landmark Gurindji/Wave Hill events in the 1960s and 70s. And then there was Timor….

Timor activism

Wes’ Timor work began sometime in 1974. A fragile and fading document in his archive shows the early Australian activist Denis Freney asking Wes and unionist Warwick Neilley to arrange public meetings for Jose Ramos-Horta’s visit to Darwin in December 1974 and suggesting they establish the Campaign for Independent East Timor (CIET) at the same time.

Following the 7 December 1975 Indonesian invasion, Wes became an inveterate letter-writer and key organiser of public demonstrations. He was involved in monitoring and conducting radio communications with the Fretilin-led resistance inside Timor, though not without some frictions with Communist Party of Australia activists such as the legendary Darwin unionist and activist Brian Manning.

Breaking the blockade

ntnews-1976-caa-18Wes was directly involved in several attempts to break the Indonesian blockade around East Timor and get humanitarian aid to the territory. All attempts failed; the most notable one occurring in late 1976 when he and three others, including former World War II commando Cliff Morris, were forcibly prevented by armed naval and customs officers from going to Timor.

Arrested and charged, under political direction, with exporting medicines and weapons, the four were initially convicted but the verdict was overturned on appeal. This story of the ‘Dawn’ venture, summarised here, is worth a more detailed telling.*

Keeping the faith

From the late 1970s until the dramatic resurgence of Australian activism following the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre, Wes continued to raise the issue and lead public demonstrations wherever possible. Along with others in the 1990s, he was a key presence in the newly-formed Australians for a Free East Timor (AFFET) in Darwin.

Wes was banned from visiting Timor in the lead-up to the 1999 independence ballot, but then spent months working with NGOs in the post-ballot chaos. His account of 117 days in East Timor offers great insight into his energy, commitment and not-always-welcomed passion for East Timor.

The archives

Rob Wesley-Smith’s personal Timor archive is a unique and irreplaceable record of his actions and that of Timor activist activities in Darwin. In addition to a large volume of correspondence, media releases and news clippings dating from 1974 the collection also includes photographs and some rare copies of resistance radio contact.

CHART has produced a preliminary guide to material examined so far. Several institutions in Darwin have expressed interest in eventually holding the collection for long-term preservation and access.

———–

‘Dawn’ venture will be the focus of a future article on this website. See also John Izzard’s colourful 2010 account.

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National Archives access restrictions questionable

19 June 2015

We examine the same document in two separate folders at the National Archives of Australia (NAA). One copy has parts blacked-out, the other is not redacted. We ask: Were the specific redactions justifiable and what are the broader implications of this inconsistency at NAA?

To redact or not to redact?

To redact or not to redact? Questions on access restriction decisions.

A late-1976 four-page report, apparently from church-connected sources, offered a rare independent view on conditions inside Indonesian-military-occupied East Timor. The report, broadly confirming Fretilin-led resistance claims, gained  immediate attention from Australian media, NGOs and activists and was analysed for Australian parliamentarians by James Dunn.

The report also came to the attention of the Australian Government at the same time and was assessed by its Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (DFAT) and the Joint Intelligence Organisation (JIO*). More than thirty years later, the relevant folders from DFAT and JIO were released for public access. The JIO copy of the report was significantly redacted before its release in 2011, but the DFAT copy was left completely uncensored (released 2012).

This inconsistency raises doubts on the reliability of NAA decisions on restricting public access to many Timor documents.

What was redacted?
The unredacted DFAT copy shows that the main JIO redactions obscured references to Timorese, Indonesian or international Church organisations. We can reasonably conclude that the redactions sought to either hide or protect  the unidentified author’s Church connections.

Was the redaction justified?
In terms of personal safety of the authors, there is no doubt that the redacted material was very sensitive in 1976; other comments in both folders stress this. We strongly doubt, however, that the information was still sensitive in 2011 when this redaction was applied – especially since no individual is immediately identifiable.

Formal easons for redactions.

Folios 61-65: Formal reasons for redactions.

The access decision redacting the report in the JIO folder was specifically based on Section 33(1)(a) of the Archives Act. This provision restricts access to any material which “would damage Australia’s security, defence or international relations”. In a close reading of the reasons for redacting this report (click on graphic above), we cannot see any reasonable basis to invoke Section 33(1)(a) in the case of this document.

Our views are effectively confirmed by the access decision on the DFAT folder. Other material in the DFAT folder was redacted or excluded under Section 33(1)(a), but not this particular document. The DFAT folder also contains additional unredacted material about the original source of the document.

What are the implications?
At the very least we can conclude from this example that NAA restrictions** on access through redaction under Section 33(1)(a) are inconsistently applied. Of more concern is the implication from this particular example that redactions in other NAA documents about Timor may be similarly unjustifiable.

A researcher can wait for up to two years*** for a Timor folder to be examined before being released. As Australian researcher Clinton Fernandes has found, challenging NAA redactions after the initial release of documents can be an onerous process. This is particularly so for materials from intelligence agencies like JIO. It is reasonable, then, for researchers to expect the access decision-making processes to be robust.

Regrettably, this present example certainly throws doubt on the reliability or legitimacy of restrictions on access to some materials at NAA.

———–

NOTES:
*JIO was the name of the Australian military’s intelligence arm, now called the Defence Intelligence Organisation (DIO).
** It is very likely in both cases that the access decisions taken were recommended to NAA by the relevant agencies (ie DIO and DFAT). Nonetheless, it is NAA which takes formal responsibility for the decisions.
*** A CHART analysis of wait-times for NAA access decisions is in preparation.


Kevin Sherlock, 8 March 1934 – 2 October 2014

8 October 2014

All of us in the East Timor archives, history and research communities have lost one of our most treasured resource people. Kevin Sherlock devoted the second half of his life to finding, collecting and then selflessly and enthusiastically sharing knowledge, historic and current literature and archival materials about Timor.

We dedicate this page to his life, work and memory by providing information or links to items by or about Kevin. We start the ball rolling with a pointer to our 2011 article about Kevin. We will add material over coming days and invite readers to offer further information or reflections.

Kevin Sherlock at home in his own library/archive. June 2011

Kevin Sherlock at home in his own library/archive. June 2011

CHART Profile, June 2011

See this brief profile on Kevin Sherlock arising from a visit to his home in 2011. The piece includes a link to Kevin’s own account of how he began and conducted his Timor-life’s work.

Sherlock Collection

Kevin willed his extensive research collection of books and papers to the Charles Darwin University Library. Access to the collection must wait until it is arranged, described and catalogued by the Library.

Kevin’s incomplete 2002 shelf list of his provides a useful insight into the extent of his collection.

Some of Kevin’s extensive collection of books can now be seen in the CDU library catalogue. See here (sorted by earliest date first).

Digitised samples

We present here a few samples of Kevin’s work from his early Timor years. These samples come from the archives of Melbourne’s Timor Information Service (1975-84).

Bibliography,  January 1976
Probably one of Kevin’s earliest circulated lists of his emerging bibliography

Gazetteer,  April 1977
Self-constructed location guide to place names on widely known Portuguese Timor map

Letter to John Waddingham & Maurice Heading, 1977-10-07
List of published sources on Timorese anthropology

Timor study tour to Portugal, January 1981
Narrative account of research in Portugal, February-December 1980

Collection Acquisitions List, January 1981
Materials collected in Portugal during 1980 study tour

Letter to John Waddingham, 1982-11-07
Subjects: Senate Inquiry, land ownership & use, Indonesian publications

Collection Acquisitions List, January 1983
Covers period July-December 1982. Includes lists of Collection newsclippings, photographs, posters & covering letter to John Waddingham.

Tributes

Agio Pereira, Timor-Leste Minister of State: English / Portuguese

Jose Ramos-Horta [2014-10-08]

Tempo Semanal [2014-10-07]

ETAN Timor List [2014-10-7/10]

Sunday Territorian, Darwin [2014-10-19]


Keeping secret (some) Australian goverment archives

16 April 2014

The National Archives of Australia’s holdings of government records about East Timor are a rich evidential and research resource, but parts of the record remain closed to public scrutiny.  We explore this continuing secrecy through summarising a recent effort by researcher and author Clinton Fernandes to access some restricted 1981-1982 documents.

naa-parts2021red

On 2 April 2014, the President of Australia’s Administrative Appeal Tribunal (AAT) affirmed an earlier National Archives of Australia (NAA) decision to deny Clinton Fernandes access to parts of two Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (DFAT) folders about East Timor (pictured above).

In 2012 NAA had examined and released the folders to Fernandes (and to general public access), but denied access to 140 of a total of some 600 pages. These pages were excluded on the grounds that, if public, they could cause damage to Australia’s security, defence or international relations or that they were provided in confidence by another government (see details in Section 33 (1)(a) & (b) of the Archives Act 1983 .

Fernandes sought from NAA a review of that 2012 decision but with little result – so he followed standard procedure by then appealing to the AAT for an independent judgement on access to the excluded pages.

Public and closed hearings on January 30 and February 3 this year finally resulted in the AAT’s written decision of April 2. The decision (see full text) kept all ‘exempt’ material secret except for one line on one page and one paragraph on another page.

The folders
The two folders are part of sequence of folders titled ‘Portuguese Timor – Political – General’. This folder sequence, which dates back to 1946, was created and maintained by DFAT in Canberra.

The two folders in question, ‘parts’ 20 and 21, cover the dates 05 August 1981 to 11 January 1982. Clinton Fernandes sought access to these folders because they cover the period of a late-1981 Indonesian military operation known as Operasi Keamanan.* 

Many of the public documents in these two folders do shed some light on what Australian officials did learn about the 1981 military operation. The material judged to be not secret can be viewed online through NAA – see Part 20 & Part 21.

We can only guess how much more information is in the still-secret pages of the folders – at least some of which came from the USA government or Australia’s intelligence coordinating body, the Office of National Assessments (ONA).

Government barrier to fair process
Fernandes’ appeal to the AAT was made more difficult by an action of the Australian government. In January, Attorney-General George Brandis issued a so-called ‘public interest certificate’ which required secrecy for official written evidence and verbal testimony to the AAT. The AAT President hearing the case acknowledged the disadvantage to Fernandes – the certificate meant his representative could neither see nor cross-examine the evidence put to the Tribunal.

A further consequence of the certificate was that the reasoning behind the Tribunal’s final decisions were also to be kept secret – leaving Fernandes with little grounds to challenge the decisions.

The decision – key points
Much of the text of the formal AAT decision is details on the procedures and legal context of the decision-making process. The substantial elements of the decision were:

1. With the exception of ten pages (‘folios’), the AAT affirmed the original NAA decision to deny access to the large number of ‘exempt’ pages. (Decision paragraph 62)

2. After further evidence from the Inspector-General of Intelligence & Security (IGIS) on these ten pages, the AAT decided that only parts of two of the pages could be released (paras. 62-64).**

Why the continued secrecy?
The AAT decision text implies that documents cannot be exempted from access on the grounds of “mere embarrassment” or exposure of Australia or Indonesia to public discussion and criticism (see para 34).

We know some documents from the USA remain secret because the US has asked Australia to keep them so. That is the law (Archives Act 33(1)(b) – so that decision is not surprising. But we do not know why the US wants the material kept secret.

All but a fragment of the documents remain secret because the Tribunal was persuaded by government claims their release will damage some or all of Australia’s defence, security or international relations. But the ways in which specific documents might cause such damage is not revealed.

Only minor clues to Australian government thinking on this can be found in the decision text.

Public evidence from ONA claimed disclosure of its material would be seen by other (hostile ?) parties or could damage relationships with ‘international partner agencies’ which, in turn could damage the broader security/defence relationships (paras 55-56). This is the standard general case made against release of any intelligence agency material and is not a revelation.

The same ONA official also referred to current tensions between Australia and Indonesia as a factor – implying that anything which might exacerbate the tensions was against Australia’s interests (para 57). Again, these are standard arguments which have been asserted by successive Australian administrations for decades.

Comment
We can only speculate on the specific reasons for the continued need to keep secret 30-year-old archives about Timor. Readers are invited to add their own thoughts by way of ‘Comments’.

The most likely reasons are to do with developing and maintaining Australia-US-Indonesia security and intelligence relationships – but beyond that, who knows? Another possibility is that some of the exempt information reveals high quality information about Indonesian military activities in 1981 and/or points the finger at the role of particular Indonesian military individuals still in service or public life.

Whatever the reasons, the Australian government and its agencies are strongly protecting some information from public access. So concerned with continuing the secrecy, the Australian government has flagged it is considering an appeal to the Federal Court against the AAT decision to release those tiny fragments on two pages. (See: Paragraph 6 part 4 of this subsequent April 8 decision of the AAT).

One partial solution to this overall problem may lie with Indonesian and US citizens pressing their own governments to release their still-secret official records on East Timor.

 – – – – – – – – – – –

* The operation was notable for its use of a ‘fence of legs’ (pagar betis) tactic in which large numbers of Timorese civilians were conscripted to assist Indonesia forces to sweep through the territory to capture the Fretilin-led resistance. There were fears at the time that this forced conscription could lead to serious food shortages in rural Timor. This operation also resulted in thousands of East Timorese being incarcerated on Atauro Island.

** Parts to be released: The first line of the hand-written text on Part 21, folio 130 and the first paragraph of Part 21, folio 133.

 


Andrew McNaughtan video archive: CHART work

25 July 2013

CHART’s Cecily Gilbert and John Waddingham recently spent two weeks in residence at the National Film and Sound Archive in Canberra examining the video collection of prominent 1990s Timor activist Dr Andrew McNaughtan (1954-2003).

Andrew McNaughtan with Jude Conway and FALINTIL commander, Taur Matan Ruak

East Timor 1999: Andrew McNaughtan with Jude Conway, FALINTIL commander Taur Matan Ruak, and camera. Credit: Jude Conway

The Andrew McNaughtan audiovisual collection holds some important historical footage from occupied East Timor in the 1990s. The collection was deposited at Australia’s National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) in 2006, three years after Andrew’s sudden and premature death in December 2003.

Andrew McNaughtan visited Timor several times from 1994, always carrying a video camera. He travelled around the territory, recording countryside and village scenes and interviewing anyone who was prepared to speak to camera about life and conditions under Indonesian military occupation.

The collection is an important part of the surviving archival record of this significant Australian activist and the period he observed in East Timor.

Collection content
Andrew McNaughtan’s video for the 1994-1998 period contains rare material, some of which is probably unique. Raw footage of particular note for this period includes:

  • Extensive coverage of the 1998 university ‘Student Dialogues’ process
  • Smuggled Indonesian recordings of post-demonstration detentions and interrogations
  • Interviews with Church personnel, including priests, nuns and Monsignor Belo
  • Interviews with ordinary Timorese on military occupation, human rights violations, food production and shortages
  • Some marvellous scenes of countryside, jubilant pre-independence crowds, religious ceremonies and devotions

McNaughtan’s extensive record of the historic ‘Student Dialogues’ throughout East Timor in the second half of 1998 is especially interesting. He travelled with the student convoys from Dili to various centres across the territory, recording the public rallies and the obstructions they experienced from civilian and military officials.

Teamwork: NFSA’s Tim Cowie (left) and Tenille Hands (third from left) with John Waddingham and Cecily Gilbert.

CHART work
CHART’s two weeks at NFSA was devoted to viewing the McNaughtan material and recording data about the collection content for NFSA’s online catalogue.

The project provided a number of challenges – not least of which was trying to determine the date and location of some 100 different recordings. CHART’s final data set on the collection is far from perfect. Much work remains to be done to more accurately identify people, places, events and spoken content.

Our data on the collection will be available through this website when it becomes available on the NFSA catalogue in coming weeks.

Access to collection
The collection will be available for viewing at NFSA after it is catalogued.

CHART also nominated some sixty tapes for special digitisation by NFSA which will enable that footage to be viewed through NFSA offices or agencies in most Australian capitals.

NFSA has a longer term plan to make footage like this accessible online through its own website. NFSA also has adopted in recent years an in-principle commitment to ensuring key Timor archival materials are eventually accessible to East Timorese through Timor-Leste’s own archival institutions.

Further information on Andrew McNaughtan:
1. Document archives: CHART work and list.
2. Jude Conway’s photographic testimonial (on Clinton Fernandes website)
3. Collected reflections by friends and colleagues.


Bill Morrison Papers: Timor fragments

5 July 2013

CHART recently visited the National Library of Australia to examine some Timor fragments in the papers of former Australian diplomat and parliamentarian, the late Bill Morrison.

We present here a brief summary of the collection’s Timor-related contents and report our discovery of a minor archival treasure.

Bill Morrison. 1983

Bill Morrison. 1983 [Source: The Bulletin]

Bill Morrison (1928-2013) was a career diplomat-turned-politician who was a minister in the Whitlam Labor Government, 1972-75. He lost his seat in 1975 but returned to parliament in 1980 until becoming Australia’s ambassador to Indonesia, 1985-89.

While the Timor issue would have crossed his desk as Defence Minister in late 1975, his most prominent public connection to Timor was as leader of the controversial Australian parliamentary delegation visit to Indonesia in July-August 1983

Morrison collection
The National Library of Australia (NLA) holds Bill Morrison’s personal papers accumulated in his terms in public life (1969-1989). In many ways, the papers are typical of a number of other politicians’ archives in Australian public repositories. They contain a mixture of subject files, correspondence and files on specific parliamentary activities such as serving on various parliamentary committees. Morrison was a member of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and his papers also include ALP internal organisational materials.

The National Library’s general description of the Morrison collection can be found here.

For a more detailed guide to the content of the collection, see the NLA’s online finding aid.

Access restrictions
The Morrison papers originally carried an undated 30-year restriction on access. Following CHART enquiries, the NLA manuscripts division has determined that some of the papers are available for immediate public access; others remain  restricted.

CHART learned in discussion with the NLA’s manuscripts curator that access to papers like Bill Morrison’s is subject to the 1983 Archives Act and the 1993 Parliamentary Services Act. In short this means, for example, that Morrison’s nearly-40-year-old Defence Minister files from 1975 still need to be examined by National Archives for possible exempt materials* before being cleared for access.

Similarly, the full extent of Mr Morrison’s papers on his time as Indonesian Ambassador will not be accessible until 2015; even then, the papers will likely be subject to prior examination by National Archives.

Bill Morrison's papers on the 1983 Parliamentary Delegation visit to Indonesia & East Timor.

Bill Morrison’s papers on the 1983 Parliamentary Delegation visit to Indonesia & East Timor.

Timor Content
CHART’s examination of a small selection of boxes from the Morrison papers revealed the collection to contain Timor materials of unquestionable research interest.

1. Labor Party Timor policy development
The collection contains materials offering insight into ALP policy development, especially on Timor. Of particular value are internal papers leading up the the landmark 1984 ALP national conference which watered down the party’s Timor previous position (see our earlier article on this issue).

2. Parliamentary Delegation
The three boxes of material on the 1983 Parliamentary Delegation, while partly restricted, offer particular insight into the original drafting of the delegation’s report. From the examined files, it seems that Morrison himself wrote in long-hand, the very first draft of key sections of the report. The boxes also contain a good collection of Indonesian print media coverage of the overall delegation visit and a comprehensive file on the so-called ‘chance meeting with Fretilin’ (see below), including the public controversy which followed.

Letter to Delegation, 1983

Letter to Delegation, 1983**

Buried treasure
The unscripted interception of a delegation vehicle by members of the Fretilin-led resistance became a public sensation; even moreso when it was alleged after the delegation’s departure that the Fretilin member’s words to Bill Morrison were mistranslated.

At the interception, the resistance member (Cancio de Sousa Gama) handed Morrison a letter from Fretilin – the text of which was translated and incorporated into the Delegation’s formal report.

CHART was greatly surprised to find the original letter in Bill Morrison’s personal papers at the National Library. Click image at right to see the front of the four-page original text.

CHART will explore the broader 1983 Parliamentary Delegation saga in more detail in coming weeks.

———

The Morrison collection at the National Library of Australia contains valuable additions to the overall archival record about East Timor, 1974-99. In addition to the non-Morrison primary source materials therein, it also offers some insight into Mr Morrison’s views and work on the East Timor issue which ran strongly against the case for East Timorese self-determination.

NOTES:

*Exempt materials: Materials which still contain sensitive information; see details here. In the case of East Timor, most government-sourced materials are automatically regarded as sensitive and a decision on access often takes many months.

** Fretilin Letter to Delegation, 26 July 1983, Papers of Bill Morrison, National Library of Australia, MS 4957 / Addition 1 November 1984 / Box 65.
[Letter reproduced here by kind permission of Pictures and Manuscripts, National Library of Australia]


Parliamentary Inquiry: CHART submission

15 May 2013

The Australian Parliament has begun a broad-ranging inquiry into Australia’s relationship with Timor-Leste. We present here a summary and full text of CHART’s submission to the inquiry.

CHART calls for a critical examination of current restrictions on access to Australian government archives about East Timor and calls for Australian support for emerging archival institutions in Timor-Leste.

On May 21, the Australian parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade will commence public hearings on Australia’s relationship with Timor-Leste. The inquiry will examine government and non-government relationships and has attracted over seventy submissions – largely from Australian NGOs and individuals.

This is the third Australian parliamentary inquiry specifically on Timor in the current era, following Senate Committee inquiries in 1982-83 and 1999-2000. Historically these reports have had little obvious influence on the direction of government policy (the 1983 report was virtually ignored by the then Hawke Labor Government). However, such inquiries can provide a comprehensive insight into the thinking and actions of key players and are an important compendium of current information. The reports and the large volume of submissions and evidential transcripts also serve as a rich archival record for future generations.

CHART Submission
Our submission to the inquiry is based on an a view that the current many-faceted relationship between Australia and Timor-Leste arises directly out of the traumatic years of the Indonesian military occupation, 1975-1999. For this reason, Australians and East Timorese have a shared and abiding interest in access to historical archives about this period.

The Chart submission makes a series of recomendations in two areas: The right to the truth through access to archives, and the development of relationships between Australian and emerging East Timorese archival institutions.

Access to Australian archives on Timor
Drawing attention to the growing international interest in ‘the right to truth’, CHART makes a number of recommendations on access, including:

  • Timor records in the custody of the National Archives of Australia (NAA) be subject to a special program to expedite their release for public access
  • Processes for examining records for release be revised to speed up public access
  • The Department of Foreign Affairs’ restrictions on access be critically examined to establish whether they are over-cautious or unnecessarily restrictive.

Timor-Australia Archival relationships
Australia, as comparatively rich neighbour, is better placed than any other to cooperate with Timor-Leste in the development of sustainable archival institutions in Timor. While arguing against unsustainable, quick-fix, high technology assistance, the CHART submission recommends:

  • Exploratory relationship-building between National Archives of Australia and Timor-Leste’s Arquivo Nacional
  • Australian government support for Australian institutions with Timor archival holdings and programs
  • Australian archival institutions include in their Timor relationship programs, coordination with related Timor-engaged Australian non-government cultural initiatives
  • Programs to copy Australian-held Timor archival materials for eventual access in Timor-Leste.

CHART believes all these practical recommendations can be achieved over time and done in ways which are of relatively low cost.

Further information:
Full text of CHART submission
Links to all Inquiry submissions

[Note: More links to be added as Inquiry proceeds]